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Catalonia's new cabinet includes jailed leaders

Newly appointed Catalan President Quim Torra delivers a speech during an official swearing-in ceremony at Generalitat Palace in Barcelona on May 17, 2018. (AFP photo)

Catalonia's new president has named a cabinet that includes jailed leaders of a controversial independence movement in the northeastern Spanish region.

In his cabinet, announced on Saturday, Quim Torra named two former ministers, who are now behind bars over their role in last year’s independence movement, along with two others who fled Spain after Madrid launched a crackdown to prevent Catalonia’s secession.

Torra had earlier indicated that he would seek approval of the jailed leaders to join his government. The 55-year-old, who is viewed as a fierce secessionist leader, was elected the Catalan president after the region's chamber failed to reinstate former President Carles Puigdemont, who is now in Germany waiting a ruling on Spain’s extradition request.

Catalonia's ousted leader Carles Puigdemont addresses a press conference in Berlin, Germany, May 15, 2018. (AFP photo)

Torra vowed Monday, when he was elected in the parliament, that he would continue to push for the region’s independence from Spain, a movement which escalated last October when Puigdemont called a controversial referendum. The Spanish government then intervened to dismantle the regional administration and called snap elections to form a new parliament.

Torra vowed to build on the results of the banned referendum, which saw more than 90 percent of half of Catalonia’s eligible voters endorse its separation from Spain.

Many hoped Torra’s election could end months of political vacuum in Catalonia. He has installed his cabinet by decree but Madrid can still block it as authorities insist the new administration must be “legal and viable”.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy reacted to Torra’s appointment and said there was a growing need for “understanding and harmony” between the central government and Catalonia. He said, however, that any move meant to break the Spanish constitution would not be tolerated.

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